Nat­u­ral Hair vs Lace Wig

A reader takes up our hair chal­lenge

Cosmopolitan (South Africa) - - CONTENTS -

E ‘Ever since I can re­mem­ber, I’ve re­laxed my hair – it was some­thing my mom had al­ways done, and some­thing she did with us as we grew up, too. But my hair never re­acted well to be­ing chem­i­cally straight­ened – it would break and re­fused to grow, and my scalp would suf­fer with wounds from the treat­ments. Even­tu­ally, in De­cem­ber 2016, I’d had enough. I cut off my hair, grow­ing it out into its nat­u­ral Afro form. Now my norm is to wear braids – mean­ing I only rock my nat­u­ral Afro for a week or two be­tween braids.

‘So when COSMO asked me to do an ex­per­i­ment and wear my Afro for one day, then a lace wig the next – and see what changed (if any­thing) – I was in­trigued. It’s no se­cret that a black woman’s hair is sym­bolic and deeply per­sonal. My two-day ex­pe­ri­ence was short and, of course, my own – but what I learnt is im­por­tant for women ev­ery­where.

DAY 1 Nat­u­ral Afro

‘First things fi rst – rock­ing nat­u­ral hair is any­thing but sim­ple. The night be­fore, I sec­tioned my hair off and braided it in sec­tions. Then I soaked it in co­conut oil (for pro­tec­tion and growth), and wrapped my locks in a silk scarf be­fore head­ing to bed. In the morn­ing, I took out my braids, combed through my hair and added oil to the ends. The fi­nal touch? Us­ing a tooth­brush to lay down the edges.

‘The first per­son to re­act to my Afro was my boyfriend – and he loved it. “You seem more com­fort­able with your Afro,” he said. “And that makes you beau­ti­ful.” And he’s right – I love wear­ing my nat­u­ral hair; it feels me.

‘Buoyed by my con­fi­dence, I headed to a lo­cal cof­fee shop at UCT. As I walked through cam­pus and into the cof­fee shop, one black woman af­ter an­other stopped to com­ment about my hair. Things like, “We love your Afro!” and “What prod­ucts do you use in your hair?” The barista serv­ing me – a black girl in her 20s – was also in­ter­ested in my Afro. “How long have you had your nat­u­ral hair for?” she asked. With the ques­tions came plenty of com­pli­ments, too. I got, “I love your nat­u­ral look!” from friends and strangers, al­most al­ways fol­lowed by, “What did you use?”

‘There’s some­thing about black women and hair that cre­ates a sis­ter­hood: there are so many things we can do with our hair – and so many strug­gles sur­round­ing it! – that it’s al­ways a bond­ing sub­ject.

‘Then there were some com­ments from friends that I think they meant kindly, but ac­tu­ally hurt. “When are you get­ting your weave back?” was one, im­ply­ing that my nat­u­ral hair wasn’t prefer­able. And then, “Oh, you looked so pretty when you had your hair like this” *points to a pic of me with a weave or braids*. But I let the com­ments slide – I’ve be­come pretty numb to this kind of feed­back be­cause it hap­pens of­ten. A lot of it has to do with ig­no­rance rather than mal­ice. And when it comes to my white friends – whom I love – very few of them seem to un­der­stand the com­plex­i­ties of black hair.

‘An­other in­ter­est­ing thing I no­ticed is that I felt more per­ceived as “woke” or po­lit­i­cal wear­ing my nat­u­ral hair. With the rise of #Black­Gir­lMagic on so­cial me­dia, and celebs such as Solange cel­e­brat­ing their black­ness pub­licly, more Mil­len­nial black women are feel­ing em­pow­ered in their black­ness. Per­haps that’s where an as­so­ci­a­tion be­tween nat­u­ral hair and mak­ing some kind of po­lit­i­cal state­ment comes from. With my Afro, I was un­der­stood by some peers to be us­ing my hair to make a state­ment – proud to be black. The funny thing is, I don’t like the in­verse im­pli­ca­tion of that: that if you wear a wig or weave, or re­lax your hair, you’re some­how not woke or po­lit­i­cal, or you’re re­ject­ing your black­ness.

‘That even­ing, as I headed out for drinks in Cape Town with friends, the ques­tions and com­pli­ments didn’t stop. I didn’t feel like I was treated dif­fer­ently, but I did feel no­ticed in a dif­fer­ent kind of way. For ex­am­ple, when I walked into the first bar, a group of older black women en­joy­ing drinks out­side stopped me to tell me how great my hair looked, and then fol­lowed with the usual hair­care-rou­tine ques­tion time.

DAY 2 Lace wig

‘I de­cided to put in the lace wig from Style Diva my­self. I put my hair in corn­rows, cut the clo­sure and laid it. Then I styled pieces of the wig with curlers, and I was ready to go.

‘Look­ing in the mir­ror be­fore I left home was odd. I felt pretty self-con­scious – for a wig to look good, you worry about whether it’s been put in prop­erly, if it’ll stay put, and whether it looks su­per-fake. I felt like there was way more pres­sure than if I was wear­ing my nat­u­ral hair. That said, I did feel pretty sassy! It was fun to be able to play with the length and flick my hair around.

‘Hair should be a choice, not a pre­scrip­tion’

‘I headed back to cam­pus to get an­other cof­fee – but this time I got lit­er­ally zero com­pli­ments or com­ments. Noth­ing. Nei­ther passersby nor the café staff paid at­ten­tion to me, which was an odd com­par­i­son to yes­ter­day.

‘I moved on to lunch at a restau­rant in Green Point – but still noth­ing. As I sat and thought about it over sushi, the jux­ta­po­si­tion of the whole thing both­ered me. Why was it no­tice­able or “spe­cial” to wear hair that’s part of my nat­u­ral state of be­ing, but un­no­tice­able or “nor­mal” to wear hair that I’ve spe­cially bought and put in? Surely it should be the other way around? Like when you buy a spe­cial dress or put on red lip­stick – things that aren’t nec­es­sar­ily nat­u­ral, “nor­mal” you – that’s when you get the com­pli­ments, right? That peo­ple seemed to pay more at­ten­tion to me when I was wear­ing my Afro sug­gested how ab­nor­mal go­ing “nat­u­ral” is for black women. And that sad­dened me.

‘The one good thing was that, while out that even­ing, I didn’t feel like I got any spe­cial treat­ment wear­ing a West­ern-style wig. No free drinks (is it my sense of hu­mour? My bad jokes?), and a re­as­sur­ing sense that, fun­da­men­tally, my hair didn’t dic­tate ev­ery­thing about my life.

What did I learn?

‘Your hair can be a state­ment, and peo­ple do at­tach stereo­types to you based on it. But I love that we’re mov­ing into a time where black girls can cel­e­brate their black­ness and don’t have to con­form so heav­ily to West­ern beauty ideals.

‘It was re­fresh­ing to see how much my Afro was com­pli­mented. That said, hair should be a choice, not a pre­scrip­tion. We shouldn’t judge any woman for her hair, what­ever her race or back­ground. And the more we learn about one an­other’s cul­ture, the more we erode po­ten­tially dam­ag­ing stereo­types and judg­ments.

‘I pre­fer my nat­u­ral hair – I love the way it looks on me. I love that my hair de­fies grav­ity. I love track­ing my growth and find­ing new prod­ucts that work. It’s lib­er­at­ing to feel beau­ti­ful in your own skin – but that’s not to say that I don’t en­joy wear­ing weaves and braids, too. I think the mag­i­cal thing about be­ing a black woman is that, when it comes to our hair, we have so many op­tions. As Solange sings in Don’t Touch My Hair, my hair is a pre­sen­ta­tion of the feel­ings that I wear as a black woman. And that’s what re­ally counts.’ ■



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